When Grief Takes Up Residence In Your Heart

The world has entered into a season of profound grief. It is most likely a season of common grief that is shared around the world. Quarantined inside the four walls of apartments and homes, isolated from loved ones and physical touch. Jobs have been lost. Homes have been lost. Income has been lost. Relationships have been lost. There is food insecurity and housing insecurity that results in the new homeless. All are common events around the globe.

But, the most overwhelming loss, the most devastating loss, is the death of loved ones, some, too soon, others, too young, mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, friends and partners. All are losses that fiercely deposit grief into our hearts.

It is interesting to me that death always seems like a thing that never happens until it happens to someone we know or someone we love. Death is not embraced as a part of life so when it does take up residence in our living rooms, we are so surprised that it would dare cross our thresholds. As such, too many of us are not prepared for the grief that follows to demand absolute control of our thoughts.

Moment by moment, we are drawn into the shadows of life with only “Why” as our companion.

Those individuals who express a faith in God may turn to Him with their “Why,” but are often to broken unable to quietly process His response through their grief and the anger that they even have to ask the question.

What do we do when grief takes up residence in our hearts? Here’s what grief experience has taught me:

  1. Breathe intentionally, even if you have to set an alarm to remind yourself to take deep breaths
  2. Do your best to center yourself in the moment, heart wrenching though it may be
  3. Accept the depth of the pain but try your best not to wrap yourself in it
  4. Sort through the memories, literally/figuratively, welcome the laughter and the tears
  5. When the broken moments/meltdowns come, go with the moments then come up for air
  6. When you feel like retreating from the crowd, retreat without explanation or apology
  7. When you need help, seek help, either a good friend or a professional counselor
  8. Don’t feel compelled to explain your pain/tears/silence
  9. There is no need to take care of everything in those early days; handle what needs to be handled now; leave the rest for later

Zig Ziglar, the Master Salesman and motivational speaker, wrote that grief is not only unavoidable, but desirable because it “brings us to the point of realizing the vastness of our love,” and it “puts us in a position to trust God alone for our restoration, that it “is perhaps the most profound way of expressing love; the more we love a person we have lost, the greater our grief.”

This is not a truth any of us would want to embrace but it is definitely understood by every broken heart.

In the beginning, the grief that takes up residence in our hearts is cold and hard, slow to dissolve, but as the moments roll on, memories begin to warm our souls that eventually begin to melt the cold lump in our hearts.

I have read in the Bible that God captures our tears in a bottle. The context may be one of acknowledging our pain but I find it somewhat comforting to think that God cares enough about me to keep track of my sorrow. While most people are embarrassed by or turn away from my tears, God captures them.

One final word: Give yourself the grace to grieve. When people ask, “How are you doing?” tell them how you are doing. They may not understand. They may not be able to fix anything but you will have given them the opportunity to step into your grief with you. That is the definition of compassion (your heartbreak becomes their heartbreak; your suffering becomes their suffering).

I am grateful that He is the God of Comfort, especially when grief takes up residence in my heart.

LIVING BLACK IN A POST RACIAL AGE?

This piece was written at least twelve years ago, but it still seems applicable to today’s cultural climate.

They tell me that Sam Cook’s proverbial and prophetic change has come to America via the election of Mr. Obama. I hear that the almost 400 years of deprivation, marginalization and disfranchisement is at long last coming to a close because America has finally elected a black man as President of the United States of America.

I am excited to hear the news, really I am. A black man is going to live in the White House! Wow! But even more Wow! than this mind boggling fact is the reality that a black woman is going to be the First Lady of the land! Does this now mean that the black woman will become the woman to validate the guest list of every simpering socialite? Will we become the women to watch and emulate (as if this were not already happening) simply because we favor (as in we look like her) our First Lady?

A thought that is a little worrisome, however, is the notion that we African American women will now have to be the standard bearer for our First Lady , and what if we drop the ball and do something dumb or ill-mannered and the effect is immediately translated to the First Lady of the land? What will I do then? After all, I have spent most of my life making sure I did nothing that would warrant the continuation of a stereotype; what am I to do now that my race and my gender is even more subject to the scrutiny of the masses?

Living Black in America comes replete with an unwritten compendium of regulations and by-laws and rules of conduct and good manners for those moments when we find ourselves in the presence of the majority culture, none of which are set in stone tablets anywhere. Nevertheless, most of my generation, as well as the generations that came before me and passed the image torch on to me, know the “shoulds” and the “oughts” of good behavior and living Black in America.

The older women who raised me (the village mentality was very much intact during my coming-of-age years) were always neatly kempt and tastefully stylish. They may have worn uniforms to clean Miz Anne’s house, but those uniforms were always crisply and starchily pressed. Every tightly wound, hard pressed curl and every stringently marcelled wave was neatly in place and the red lipstick (that always turned orange on us) stayed put even in the heat of the kitchen.

Perhaps it was the constraint of the weekly white uniform that dictated the dramatic dress of Sundays. I remember my grandmother’s faux hair, a length 0f curled hair (real or not, I do not know) that was attached to a band of elastic which she would slip onto her head and then comb her hair over it to blend the two. To handle the recalcitrant gray at her temples, she would use a black stick made of what I do not know to cover those unruly strands. It never seemed to occur to her that the goo she applied to her edges would eventually succumb to the sweltering summer heat of south central Texas to liquify into black rivulets of sweat that ran down the sides of her face.

Yes, Sunday meant dress-up and the cost of a black woman getting herself together to enter into the presence of the Lord was never too expensive or too demanding or too strenuous.

I can still “see” my mother on many a hot summer Sunday morning wrestling herself into long-line bras and latex saturated girdles. This main event of the morning was usually followed by the putting on of make-up which would then go into battle with the rapidly rising temperature usually resulting in another full application after the donning of the di regeur Sunday suit. A hat was always carefully and stylishly set upon her head, whereupon she would then hustle us into the car (if we hadn’t already walked ourselves to Sunday school) to get to church and congregate with all the stylish mavens of our Baptist Ekklesia. How these women managed not to swoon somewhere between the long-winded and rote prayers of the deacons and the whooping histrionics of the pastor is definitely a mystery.

No, denomination was not a divider when it came to Sunday morning style (unless you were of the Pentecostal persuasion and eschewed fancy dress, lipstick, powder and paint (those ancient trappings of the vile Jezebel, that wicked manipulator of King Ahaz and persecutor/prosecutor of the prophet Elijah); most of the good sisters of my southern community always dressed to the nines on Sunday.

But I digress, greatly. Change is here so I hear and we African Americans should be excited, nay, hysterical with ecstasy and unbridled joy. The long night is over! But I am a little bit concerned about this cultural leap into positive change, so I have a question. How long will it take my cultural eyes to adjust to the light of this new day? Can I really step into the sunshine of change and quickly shake the dust of the collective past of my people from my weary feet?

Have I, have we, truly overcome?

The OG

OG or Original Gangster is a term used these day as a nod to or a sign of respect for someone who has been around for a while (as in old).

A group of ladies, including me, was sitting around a table at a church breakfast gathering. As a younger woman walked by, she called out, “A table of OGs”

Some of the other ladies laughed. I did not. I can’t remember my response but it was something to the tune of “Seriously?”

Listen, I don’t mind my age.

What I do mind is assumptions made about me because of my age.

American hates aging; the older you get, the greater the depreciation when it comes to your value and place. Here’s the thing; unless one dies young, he or she will get old! I just wish I could be around when  all those young and energetic people turn old and ignored!

Don’t play with me. This OG just might show you how it’s reallly done and take no prisoners in the doing!

 

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YEP! YEP!

 

 

Mayberry, Oh Mayberry

I’m not sure why, but for the last few months I’ve been on an “Andy Griffith Show” binge.

Yes, you heard me right, an “Andy Griffith Show” binge.

I’ve gone through all eight seasons, from black and white to color though my preference are those black and white episodes.

Speaking of color, yes, I am well aware that there are no people of color who visibly live in Mayberry. Now mind you, I have sighted a few representatives here and there (a nod to the changing times, I suspect) but no major roles for any people of color except one color episode as the show neared the end of its run.

Still, noting this lack of color in the black and white episodes did not derail my binge (my people from the South will get the irony here).

As I stated above, I’m not sure why I’m on this binge, what triggered this hunger to be a vicarious part of Mayberry, North Carolina (or is it South Carolina).

I suspect my binge watching may have something to do with the years that keep stalking me, the numbers that are adding up fast and the birthdays that feel like a runaway train headed downhill.

I want lazy Sunday afternoons spent on the front porch in a rocking chair and me chock full of a traditional dinner of roast and mashed potatoes that I’ve washed down with an ice cold goblet of sweet tea.

I want cicadas to sing me to sleep every night.

I want to take a Saturday trip to town and run into familiar faces on Main Street, stop to share pleasantries before we each scurry off to the next errand that demands immediate attention.

I want to sit on wooden pews in a clapboard covered church to watch the robe clad choir march in and nod off as the minister drones on because the summer heat has prompted me to take a quick nap.

I want houses nestled on broad, quiet streets and neighbors to chat over the fence with one another as they pot flowers or weed gardens.

I want winter holidays so cold that my ears tingle and my nose needs a warmer.

I want to shake my head at the self-absorbed antics of a Barney Fife, snicker at the serious quirkiness of a Floyd the barber, have a goober aptly named Goober pump my gas from an old school gas pump, wonder about Opie’s unique name and speculate with Clara Edwards and Aunt Bea as to why Helen Crump and Andy Taylor are still engaged after eight years of courting (and hand holding?).

I want the nostalgia of Mayberry with just a little more color in the mix.

I want the wisdom of a small town sheriff who is content with his place and purpose in a hometown he did not leave until years later (and apparently finally married Helen) only to return because he knew what I now understand, “Home [really] is where the heart is.”

Though my home, these days, is far removed from the small town in which I was raised, my heart still lives in the memories of my yesterday community.

Yeah, I want Mayberry living these days. I just want it thirty minutes away from the bright lights of a big city (to appease my “black-ish” moments).

Mayberry was created In someone’s mind; my hometown was home grown!

Oh, by the way, Frances Bavier (Aunt Bea) in real life did not like Andy Griffith (Andy Taylor) at all!

I guess Mayberry wasn’t so “pure” after all.

 

THE OTHER THAT IS ME!

The Other
The Other is an individual who is perceived by the group as not belonging, as being different in some fundamental way. Any stranger becomes the Other. The group sees itself as the norm and judges those who do not meet that norm (that is, who are different in any way) as the Other. Perceived as lacking essential characteristics possessed by the group, the Other is almost always seen as a lesser or inferior being and is treated accordingly. The Other in a society may have few or no legal rights, may be characterized as less intelligent or as immoral, and may even be regarded as sub-human.” http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/other.html

I have worked with summer programs for 20+ years. In the early years, the programs were cocooned, separate from the majority culture. Though the population of children was somewhat diverse, the teachers and staff all looked like me, all African American.

The summer program to which I am now attached is of a different “color, “simply meaning, while some diversity is still in place in the student population, the teachers are mostly white. There is nothing wrong with this mix because the teachers (who are in the final stage of a credentials program) bring to the students all they need to continue to grow and stretch academically. However, we are housed on a campus with a separate program that is not used to such diversity, so the field is ripe for misunderstandings, assumptions and micro-aggressions … on their part, not mine.

Yes, this issue of the “Other that is Me” lies not with the students or the teachers but with the opinions of those around me who do not look like me, individuals whose only information about the “Other Who Is Me” may come through the media and/or opinions of people who also look just like them.

When the “Other That Is Me” comes into view, certain assumotions come into play about the capability and ability of the “Other Who Is Me” to function well, if even at all.

It is assumed that when a situation appears untenable or unmanageable, I will, of course, need assistance, without bothering to check with me to see if, indeed, I need any help at all.

It is assumed, when the children wander into spaces where they should not be (which children have been known to do), that I should be informed as to how such scenarios should be handled without even once just Informng me about the situation and trusting me to handle it because, after all, I do have some experience with this population and the program.

It is assumed that if a playground is left messy that it had to be our kids because, you know, that is how the “Others” roll. And yes, trash was left on the playground, but, having worked at the site during school years, I am well aware of messes left behind in the cafeteria and on those same playgrounds. When I do check out the “mess,” I discover trash along the perimeter of the playground that appears to have been there for a while. I leave it in place for their maintenance people to do their job.

I have been the “Other That Is Me” all my life though the burden of “Otherness” is not as much of a concern for me as it was when I was younger. I am more vocal these days about those things that need to be addressed in the moment. I see every such moment as an opportunity for someone to learn and to grow and to stretch, namely those individuals who can only see me, and the children, as the “Other.”

What I do need, as well, is the grace to speak the truth in love, to understand the micro-aggression as ignorance, the stereotype as uninformed and the assumption as asinine misinformation.

That’s my plan, anyway.

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“God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change things which should be changed and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

 

A Lemonade Dream

The “Black-ish” episode of a few weeks ago, “Lemons,” was thought provoking. The premise of the episode was the diverse responses to Donald Trump’s election as President.

The musical intro to the episode is Marvin Gaye’s iconic “What’s Going On?” still a valid question, especially in today’s chaotic and confusing climate.

Dre’s voiceover reminds us that “Upsets are as American as apple pie; someone wins, someone loses. But what happens when the winners and losers are supposed to be on the same team?”

What, indeed?

Everyone is dealing, in their own way, with the after-effects of the election.

Rainbow is dressed in every piece of activist apparel she could buy on sale at “Barneys” (a bit of irony there).

“You look like a NPR [National Public Radio] commercial,” is Dre’s response to his wife’s gear.

Zoe and Junior are not in school this day because it has been designated a day of reflection after a student declares to a teacher that she, Ms. Gomez, will soon be shipped back to her country and leads his classmates in the chant, “Ship her back! Ship her back!’

Junior prepares to share the MLK  “I Have A Dream” speech at the day of healing while Zoe concentrates on a very special lemonade recipe, a drink she plans to share that day.

Rainbow is concerned about Zoe’s seemingly disassociation from all that is going on in the country after the election and her apparent obsession with the making of this lemonade.

When her mother tries to ascribe some symbolism to the lemonade,, Zoe responds that is just a “non-carbonated refreshment” which her friends will like.

The tension is high in the company conference room as everyone voices their angst and despair and even satisfication about the election outcome. Fingers are pointed and voices are raised. Charlie admits that he voted for Obama because he was black. Lucy admits that she voted for Trump as opposed to voting for a woman and in rebuttal to the accusation that her vote marks her as a racist, she declares, “I am not a racist. I have black friends.”

A word to the wise right here: This statement of Lucy’s does not endear you to the hearer who is black. This is not a pass for anyone white who makes this declaration.

“No one knows how we got here, but everyone has their own ideas.”

Their ideas are all over the place with no resolution in sight.

Dre’s father, when he learns that Junior is going to make the “I Have A Dream” speech on the day of healing at his school, tells him that this is not the entire speech and recites it for Junior.

“There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.” `~excerpt, MLK, “I Have A Dream” Speech

“Why didn’t I know this?” Junior decries his ignorance.

“Because they don’t want you to know. … Yeah, Martin had a lot more Malcolmin him than a lot of people give him credit for.”

Junior, astonished by the tone of the text, becomes the black clad radical brandishing a baseball bat in his bedroom.

His grandfather takes away the bat as he tells Junior “Heyy, what’s going on here. I did not tell you this for you to become another angry black man.”

He then explains to Junior that Dr. King added the “I have a dream” section to the speech after gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who had heard that portion before, yelled out to Dr. King, “Tell them about the dream, Martin. Tell them about the dream!”

The inhabitants of the conference room begin to wonder about Dre’s solemnity in the passionatate discussions and someone asks, “Why don’t you care?

As Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit” plays in the background and pictures of African Americans flit across the screen, Dre speaks:

“I love this country even though at times it doesn’t love me back. For my whole life my parents, my grandparents, me, for most black people, this system has never worked for us. But we still play ball, tried to do our best to live by the rules even though we knew they would never work out in our favor, had to live in neighborhoods that you wouldn’t drive through, send our kids to schools with books so beat up you couldn’t read them, work jobs that you wouldn’t consider in your nightmares.

Black people wake up everyday believing our lives are gonna change even though everything around us says it’s not. Truth be told, you ask most black people and they tell you no matter who won the election, they don’t expect the hood to get better. But they still voted because that’s what you’re supposed to do.

You think I’m not sad that Hillary didn’t win? That I’m not terrified about what Trump’s about to do? I’m used to things not going my way. I’m sorry that you’re not and it’s blowing your mind, so excuse me if I get a little offended because I didn’t see all of this outrage when everything was happening to all of my people since we were stuffed on boats in chains. I love this country as much — if not more — than you do. And don’t you ever forget that.

Junior makes his speech. Zoe shares her lemonade as she asserts it is not liberal lemonade, not conservative lemonade, just lemonade made with love.

There is no resolution in sight but everyone arrives to the point where each realizes that all voices are needed in the conversation, courageous conversations is what I call them.

I have not added much commentary to this post because I just want us all to think about where we are headed, where this country is headed, and how we can add our voices to the healing of the obvious rifts in this land.

I leave you with words from the movie “Red Tails,” words spoken by Andre Braugher’s character, Benjamin O. Davis:

“How do I feel about my country and how does my country feel about me?”

That is still the question.

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Watch the episode here:

http://abc.go.com/shows/blackish/episode-guide/season-3/12-lemons

T

WE’RE IN THIS THING TOGETHER

There is a spiritual that contains the words, “There is trouble all over this world.”

Trouble broke out at airports all over the country today because of the President’s executive order that effectively bans the entry of individuals from seven Muslim countries. Purportedly, people were either detained at airports, or were denied entry and sent back home.

As I read through the thread of a Facebook friend, I saw a comment about how people, in their frustration, were destroying their own cities.

The words of a Gary Byrd song came to me: “Every brother ain’t a brother…” In other words, those who appear to be in step with me sometimes have their own agenda.

Then this came to me:

·anarchy
ˈanərkē/
noun
a state of disorder due to absence or nonrecognition of authority.

Make sure you know all the players on your team. Not all perceived “chaos” is spontaneous. Sometimes it’s opportunity waiting for the right moment.

Stay Woke!

DON’T FENCE(s) ME IN! Pt. 1 (Spoiler Alert)

From my perspective, the movie “Fences” is staged like a play, which is fine with me though it was a little offputting to others.

“Fences” is an ensemble of characters but the spotlight is on Troy Maxson, the teller of tall tales and the holder of unrequited dreams.

Everyone is fenced in by something, but there also fences that separate them from some things and some people. In the character Bono’s words, “Some people build fences to keep people out and other people build fences to keep people in.”

Troy wonders why his wife Rose wants a fence, ‘What is she keeping out?” Bono speculates that perhaps she is trying to hold on to him, to keep him in.

Bono later wonders out loud to Troy why he chose hardwood to build that fence when softwood would have been so much easier to handle. Troy has only known the hardwood of life. Even his favorite game, baseball, is about hardball.  We learn throughout the movie that Troy’s life has never been soft.

Movies often require the viewer to suspend disbelief. This movie presents a reality to which many African Americans, a few generations back, can relate. No need for them to suspend disbelief because the movie grabs you by the cultural throat right out the gate and it won’t let go.

The movie opens with two men hanging on the back of a garbage truck. They are garbage men (whom we later learn are Troy and Bono), men who spend their days picking up and dumping the refuse of others of which some residue surely settles on them. Life has not been a bed of roses for them. Life has dumped its garbage of hate and denial and exclusion on them and they have learned how to ignore the stench.

‘Fences” is more than the movie title; it is the thematic thread that slowly unravels in the movie.

This is Troy’s story. The influence of the wife is sensed more that stated. Still, her interjected comments as he tells his tall tales remind us that she does have a voice, a part in their story. She, Rose, appears to be periperal but near the end of the movie we see that she has been the linchpin that held everything together inside the fence of their marriage.

Everyone is in survivor mode.

Troy is fenced in by his marriage to Rose, yet there is a fence that separates Troy and Rose in the marriage. It is the fence of loss, the loss of a father who should have loved him; the loss of a dream of playing baseball in a time that “never should have been too early;” it is the loss of the innocence of youth at fourteen when he became responsbile for the rest of his life.

He loves his wife. He brings his paycheck home to her every payday. He laughs and flirts with her in front of his friend. He loves his wife, supports his family, but loss keeps that fence in place between what he has and what he wants and what Rose thinks is in place.

Troy feels burdened by the responsibilities of the marriage while Rose believes she has given up all that she is for the marriage.

It all comes to a head when Troy confesses his infidelity to Rose and tries to explain why he has found freedom in another woman’s arms: “It’s just [Alberta] gives me a different idea, a different understanding about myself.  I can step out of this house [this fence].  I can be a part of myself I ain’t never been. I can sit up in her house and laugh; I can laugh out loud. I can forget about myself!”

Troy states, in his own frustrating way, that the other woman allows him to be a different man. He sees himself in a holding pattern, responsible for his family but along the way he forgot about imself: “I done locked myself into a pattern trying to take care of you all that I forgot about myself.”.

Rose realizes in this agonizing gut punched moment of Troy’s revelation of not only infidelity but also an impending birth, she realizes that she has placed all her feelings, all her wants and needs inside of Troy. While he has wrestled with the realization that he has been standing in the same spot for eighteen years, she also has stood in that same spot with him. He repays her giving up of herself with his unfaithfulness. Rose does her best to explain her own hopes and dreams, how she buried all her feelings in him and held on to him even through her darkest times. She lets Troy know that, yes, he gives to them, but he has also taken from them as well.

Rose has allowed herself to be subsumed by Troy in order that together they might survive. Now she hears from him, after she has given up her freedom for his survival, that he had to step outside her fence to find respite with another woman. This a brutal slap in Rose’s face, made even more brutal by the fact that Troy now expects her to give him room to breathe that fine air of freedom because he has no intention of giving up Alberta.

In the final scenes of the movie, Rose defines her place in that fence of marriage to their son, Corey: “I wanted a house that I could sing in, and that’s what your daddy gave me. I didn’t know to keep up his strength I had to give up little pieces of me. … It was my choice. It was my life and I didn’t have to live it like that.but that’s what life offered me in the way of being a woman and I took it.”

Over the kitchen sink in the Maxson house hangs a picture of an European Jesus. The gospel song, “Jesus, Be A Fence All Around Me,” plays in one scene. Rose is almost always in the kitchen, cooking or cleaning. She offers food to every person who comes to the house. She is the nurturer, the sustainer of life within the fence of their marriage, giving of her own strength in order that her family might continue to survive.

Life continues to throw hardballs at Troy. Alberta dies in childbirth. Rose agrees to raise the innocent baby but Troy is now, in her own words, “womanless.” Gabe, his brother (for another blog) is now in an institution. Bono, his friend, plays dominoes with new friends. Rose has stepped into a new fence, the Church. Troy drinks alone in a bar.

The physical fence is complete but it is the only thing still intact. Nothing else is the same. Not Troy, not Rose, not the fence that once surrounded their marriage.

 

 

WAITING TO EXHALE

Most of us have felt it

That “Oh, no!” feeling in the pit of our stomach

We are running late

Dash out to the car

Keys in one hand

Everything else in the other

We hit the remote to open the car door

Jump inside

Shove key into the ignition

And

We get nothing

Except that sickening little “click, click, click”

Which screams at us

BATTERY DEAD!

Still it is your lucky day

You have roadside service

They ask, “Are you in a safe place?”

You respond, “Yes”

But sometimes the fates are not so nice

Sometimes your car quits on you

Gives up the ghost in the most unfriendly places

Like in the middle of an intersection

Or a city street

Are you safe?

You sure hope so

Hope that other drivers see you are stuck

In the middle of the road

And drive around you

Then they arrive

You breathe a sigh of relief

Hopeful for help

But you also hold your breath

Because

They are the police

Called to protect and serve

But they are also white

And

You are black

And

You are male

You raise your hands

And you pray

Just before that first shot

Just before the searing impact of bullet against flesh

Just before that last heartbeat

You pray

That you are safe

But

You were not

You bled out in that unfriendly place

And the morning after

The media blows smoke and screams

“Angelina Jolie Files For Divorce From Brad Pitt”

As the rest of us

Who are left behind

Who continue to hope and hold our breath

Whenever we see black and white

Human and inanimate

We are left behind

To

Contemplate strange fruit

That no longer hang from trees

 

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